Animal Feed

Food for the Camino …

In 1998 my life was crushed in an instant as my partner died before my eyes under horrific circumstances. It took me more then a year, and three suicide attempts, to find a way, any way, out of it. I found the Camino de Santiago, very little known at that time. By then I had lost everything. I was homeless and penniless. Shortly before arriving at Saint Jean Pied de Port, hitchhiking, to start what would result in the one thing that truly turned my life around, I entered a French bakery and asked: I am hungry, can you give me some stale bread from yesterday for free? The answer was chilling me to the bone:

“No, we can’t do that, we sell yesterday’s bread as animal feed.” That moment I learned that for some people, those without money will always be less than animals.

I didn’t give up, I hitchhiked to Saint Jean Pied de Port, took a look at the Pyrenees and hitchhiked to Roncesvalles. The driver that had picked me up let me out a few hundred meters before the colegiata and I was worried. I knew that the albergue was a donativo, but I didn’t have a credencial and not a single penny in my pocket. Something caught my eye, before my feet lay a 50 pesetas coin, exactly the amount of money I needed to ‘buy’ a credencial and become a pilgrim. I filled out the paperwork and ascended the stairs to the albergue – Only pilgrims allowed, no tourists past this point. I didn’t feel I was either. I didn’t feel I fit anywhere anymore.

The hospitaler@s announced the program of the evening: Mass with pilgrims blessing followed by a pilgrim’s meal in the nearby restaurant. I went to mass, I needed all the blessings I could possibly get. I went back to the albergue, hungry. I wrote in my journal, another pilgrim shared the table with me, we smiled at each other, we both knew we were both outcasts – pilgrims that didn’t fit in.

The hospitaler@s passed by and looked at us and asked ‘Not at the Pilgrim’s Meal?’

‘No.’, we said quietly.

Shortly after they came back again and put a plate of tortilla before us.

‘Enjoy the meal, pilgrims.’, they said.

And suddenly we were human beings again.

Miraculously I made it to Santiago, and, over the next four years put my life back together and found a new reason to live, a new raison d’etre, I got my life back together but I vowed that nobody that would knock at my door would ever leave empty handed … As long as I have food in the house, I will share it gladly with whoever knocks at the door.

Egeria House and Starfishes

When people hear for the first time of Egeria House, they often think of it as a big, established center with a huge sign at the door and paid staff, or something similar.

Truth is that Egeria House is more a way of life for me, not bound to a particular place and, no, there is no ‘staff’, only me at the moment.

Egeria herself was a Galician woman and made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Land in the 4th century. Not only that, she also wrote about her journey and the things she saw. Her account of the Easter celebration in Jerusalem is the oldest one that exists and has kept liturgists happy ever since.

When I lived in England, I was intrigued by the fact that many houses there, in addition to numbers, also had names. When I moved to Santiago, I wanted the place where I lived to have a name that was meaningful to me, so it became Egeria House.

As for starfishes, if you have ever met me in person, I will, most likely, have told you this tale already, if that is the case, feel free to skip to the next paragraph.

A man was walking at the beach early one morning, after a bad storm. He was saddened as he noticed the hundreds and hundreds of stranded starfishes that would certainly die when the sun came up and dried them out. As he walked further and further, he noticed another man coming towards him, but he was bending down, picking something up and throwing it in the sea. As he came closer, he realized that the other man was picking up starfishes and throwing them back. “You fool”, he said, “there are hundreds of them on this beach alone. You are not making any difference.” The other man bend down, picked up a starfish and said calmly: “But I can make a difference for this one.” And throw it back into the sea.

And that is what we all can do:

Helping one ‘starfish’ at a time, because a multitude of small acts of kindness WILL change the world – for the better, keeping the Camino spirit alive in our own communities.

Ongoing – Neighborhood Pantry Fundraiser

Please help me to continue to help my neighbors here in Santiago (background story here: to have a great feast for Saint James Day and also to provide food security for them in the weeks and months to come. Every little helps – a lot!

What your donations will be used for:

Most importantly, good food like fresh fruit and vegetables plus stables like milk, pasta, rice, canned pulses and the like.

Daily box for one family … Covid-safe pick-up for up, four families a day at the moment.

One of my neighbors has special dietary needs due to diabetes and related complications (heart/kidneys) so a lot of special food (salt and sugar free mostly) is required.

Basic house cleaning products (washing up liquid, bleach, floor cleaner) plus face masks, hand soap and sanitizer to keep them and everybody in the neighborhood safe.

Diapers/nappies, baby soap and so on for their (grand) children.

I also want to move furniture, again!, to free a bedroom in the flat and to create a better storage space (the hallway is getting crowded!) and I would like to add more shelves to it to accommodate in kind donations of clothes, books, and toys etc that are already coming in via various sources.

Decent clothes are very important to maintain people’s dignity and to increase their chances of finding a job. Like it or not, clothes make the (wo)man – that is the reality.

I also want to continue to grow plants (herbs, flowers and edibles) for my neighbours to cheer them up. Low income families simply don’t have the resources to do that themselves but they really do appreciate the possibility to just pick up some free plants from the box on my door step. So far I have distributed 250+ plants this year, hopefully enabling kids to observe and learn how plants grow.

As it is the feast of Saint James this Sunday, I really want to add some extra ‘treats’ like Tarta de Santiago and children’s toys because I strongly believe that if you live in Santiago, you should be able to celebrate and enjoy this day, especially in a Holy Year!, no matter your income level.

As for pilgrims, I continue to help them online plus I have given those that ‘knocked at the door’ gear and food as needed since the pandemic started. Granted, very few did so, but those I helped were in need.

Once I am fully vaccinated, which should be end of August, I plan to offer again hospitality to pilgrims in need aka those without resources. I do NOT plan to make any competition to existing albergues/hostels/hotels and the like, as they are already fighting for their survival and that of their families. But if it will be the choice between ‘under the bridge/on the streets’, or Egeria House, I will be open for them in future with no questions asked.

Ways you can help:

You can use this direct link to donate via PayPal:c

Or on this same website, go to the top right corner and you’ll find the donation buttons that allows you to donate directly with your debit/credit card or PP account.

If you prefer to use (Transfer)Wise just just contact me for my details via any of this ways:

If you can’t donate, please share this post via social media.

Thank you in the name of my neighbors for all your ongoing help during this, continuing, challenging times for all of us, SY

Egeria House – Version 3 or so …

When I moved in May 2017 to Santiago de Compostela, I had no idea how many ‘versions’ of Egeria House I would experience. First came the ‘hospitality version’ when pilgrims would either stay with me and/or just come by in the afternoons for a chat over tea or coffee. 2018 we added the chaplaincy version and in 2019 we extended the chaplaincy programme and our ecumenical relationships here in Santiago. And 2020 can only be described as the ‘online version’ …

Empty box that needs filling …

But 2020 has also seen, for me personally and nothing to do with the Camino as such, a completely new ministry that ‘somehow’ entered my life. Egeria House is not tied to a certain building, for me, it is a way of life. A way of sharing what I have, space, time, and food. Some of my favourite memories are those of shared meals among pilgrims, chaplains or to put it more simply – among friends. It will be a while until that is possible again!

Nearly a year ago I moved into what was meant to be my winter 2019/20 flat, needless to say, due to Covid-19, I am still here in the San Pedro neighbourhood. The flat is in a very mixed part of Santiago, all from the comfortable middle class to the desperately poor. Just 100m down the street from me lives, for example, an extended family of Roma, who, in normal times, you would see begging around the cathedral and in Old Town. When we were all put into lockdown, the Red Cross delivered food to them, but when lockdown was eased, this stopped.

Early on this year, I had already put out a box with surplus items, see, so I guess that gave people the confidence to ring my doorbell when things got hard for them. Slowly, slowly the number of people increased who were ringing the bell. Most of them are Roma, some of them a neighbour that ‘has run out of XYZ’ over the weekend, sometimes, I see somebody dumpster diving for food in the rubbish container before the house.

Part of the pantry, more in the fridge …

Yes, Spain has a social security system, but people are still falling, and in ever-increasing numbers, through the gaps. What started with buying a bit more of everything and keeping bread, cheese, and similar in the freezer compartment for somebody in need that passes by, feels now like running a one-woman-neighbourhood food bank. And I am happy with that.

The decision to take the box into the house entrance had its disadvantages but also enabled me to know what my neighbours really need instead of wildly guessing it. There is, for example, one woman that has diabetes with many complications, she needs bread without salt, others need mainly fresh fruit and vegetables, others can’t afford to buy diapers/nappies for their children, others need face masks as they could get fined by the police if they go out without one, others …

Rarely a day goes by when the doorbell doesn’t ring, more often it’s twice or thrice per day. By now, I know most of them by name, I know if they have a working kitchen or if they only have a microwave to cook with, I know whom to give the saltless bread for my diabetic neighbour to and I know which size of diapers/nappies the families need. Sometimes I smile when I go shopping as my list is getting each week more varied. Oh, and thankfully our local Froiz supermarket does home deliveries, that saves me from shlepping heavy stuff like milk cartons or jars of canned vegetables home.

A typical delivery …

And I know that I am not the only one doing this, or similar things, here in Santiago. Quite a lot of small initiatives like this are now addressing needs in their respective neighbourhoods. Sometimes it’s a one-person set-up, sometimes it is a group of people, sometimes a mixture of both, like in my case. Back in July, I mentioned the situation here on a small German Camino forum I run, several people offered to help with donations. Back then I said, I manage, mainly thanks to a Facebook fundraiser I ran this year in May and the income I still earn as a freelancer, but at the beginning of October I took them up on their offer. Other friends also chimed in. So, whilst I do the shopping and distributing, I am not the only one paying for everything myself, I have help.

As many of you might know, I am a huge Terry Pratchett fan. My favourite Discworld characters are the witches, which rarely do real magic. Instead, they strike me as old-fashioned community nurses and midwives that go around the houses with the following philosophy:

“Filling what’s empty and emptying what’s full.”

Or, if you prefer a more Christian interpretation, I share with you a short bit of a sermon I once heard:

“The real miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000 wasn’t the multiplication of the loaves of bread and the fishes, it was to get everybody to share the food they had already in their pockets.”

Much better!

Yes, the donation button is back, since today, in the top right corner of this website, but what would make me really happy is if more people would do something similar, all over the world. This winter will be so hard on all of us and on so many different levels, but if everybody does her or his little bit by:

  • Letting your neighbours know that you are there for them.
  • Sharing your time and resources with them, please with a face mask worn and keeping a safe, physical distance.
  • Decluttering your wardrobes and donating the clothes you haven’t worn in ages.
  • Joining or starting neighbourhood initiatives.

Then we really can build a better world for ourselves and those around us. I leave you with these words by Mahatma Gandhi:

“The world has enough for everyone’s needs, but not everyone’s greed.”

Egeria House 2020

It’s incredibly difficult, to sum up, the last few months here in Santiago, on the Caminos and in Spain in general. So, please forgive me if this blog post runs a bit long and contains a lot of links to places where you can find more background information. I have also tried to structure it a bit by topics so that you can skip those that don’t interest you …

General Situation here in Spain and Santiago

At the time of writing, beginning of October 2020, we are firmly in the grip of the second wave here in Spain (actual figures >>>here<<< ). Whilst we are not back in full lockdown, mobility for non-essential travel has been restricted in places like Léon, Barcelona, and Madrid. I try my best to keep this page updated with the latest info about how these restrictions affect pilgrims currently on a Camino.

Our main restrictions here in Santiago refer to how many people from different households can meet up, restricted opening hours, restricted number of people allowed inside of shops and restaurants, restricted number of people allowed to gather outside as a group, obligation to wear a mask when outside your own home (the only exception is when you are eating or drinking something), keeping to social distancing at all time, hand sanitizer everywhere and so on.

Sometimes I feel like I live in a hospital for infectious diseases, with all the patients moving around, trying to keep their distance and wearing masks. My ‘social’ life has been pretty much reduced to online and the last time I hugged one of my friends was at the beginning of March. I am fully aware that a lot of people have it far, far worse than I do. I live in a cozy, bright flat with a balcony, I have enough to eat, and so on. All my basic needs are well covered and for that, I am truly thankful. But I still worry about my friends and I worry about where and how this all will end. OK, enough of doom and gloom, back to Chaplaincy and Camino updates!

Anglican Camino Chaplaincy

Beginning of April 2020 we took the planned program online, in a matter of speaking. Apart from providing material, both written and video/audio, for Easter we then also asked the chaplains that were meant to be here in Santiago de Compostela at certain dates, to provide ‘something’ during those dates for me to post here and on Facebook in the hope that it helps pilgrims stuck at home.

The church of Santa Susana might be empty now, but it will be waiting for us …

I love the creativity of the chaplains and how everybody contributed something unique. Many Muchas Gracias to all of you! If you want to have a look, all their contributions can be found here and our Facebook page for the Chaplaincy is here

As for 2021, a few days ago I had a phone conversation with Father Bob Bates, our lead chaplain, about the possible future of the chaplaincy next year. Before I tell you the result, here are some facts you might or might not know:

  • A large number of our volunteers are retired, meaning they are at least in one high-risk group, that of age.
  • Most of our volunteers come from the UK and the USA, both countries with different travel/quarantine restrictions that make it difficult to come over for a two-week volunteering stint and/or traveling back home.

The number of non-Spanish pilgrims, and especially of those that come from English speaking countries, has been very low in the three months since the Camino re-opened in July 2020. Take September, for example, a month that traditionally sees a lot of retired, foreign pilgrims that enjoy the cooler, but not yet cold, weather and the slightly quieter season.

In September 2019, a total of 45,653 pilgrims were registered by the Pilgrim’s Office here, this year the number was 10,441, so less than 25% of last years’ pilgrims. And if we look at the numbers of non-Spaniards, September 2019 saw 29,224 of them, and this year only 3,166, just over 10% compared to 2019. And in October, so far, we have seen between 200-300 pilgrims arriving each day, in 2019 the daily average for October was >1,000 pilgrims.

If you like to do your own number crunching, the Pilgrim’s Office publishes their monthly and yearly statistics here:

If we now look at the possible number of non-Roman Catholic pilgrims like outlined here: with an educated guesstimate of 10-15% of pilgrims coming from a Protestant background of any shape or form then we can ‘assume’ that less than 150 pilgrims MIGHT have been interested in the offerings of an Anglican Camino Chaplaincy here in Santiago de Compostela during the whole month of September 2020.

Experience from our two previous years shows that of those, perhaps 10% (being optimistic here) actually came in the past to one of our services or events. Now comes what I call the >Crystal Ball< bit:

How and What do we Best Plan for 2021?

Bearing all this in mind Father Bob and I have decided to offer some online worship material, reflections, sermons, and the like, for the major feast days like Advent and Christmas during the wintertime. We also think that it would be premature to even contemplate a ‘normal’ in-person chaplaincy for the first half of 2021. Instead, we will invite chaplains to do the same as this year, putting together material for pilgrims to reflect on and putting them up online again. We hope and pray that there is still a chance of some chaplains coming here to Santiago for the second half of 2021, but really, only God knows …

It is with a heavy heart that I am writing this, but the combination of all the above plus the complexity of keeping pilgrims and chaplaincy volunteers safe during this pandemic is simply too much. Add to that the problem of how to house the chaplaincy volunteers, which typically come for two weeks, whilst maintaining social distancing if they would stay with me as some have done in the past.

And for those who wonder what happened to the donations / the fundraised money for the Anglican Camino Chaplaincy 2020, it’s sitting safely in the UK account of the Diocese in Europe, waiting to be used when and if an in-person chaplaincy is possible again.

Holy Year 2021

More, general, information about what the Holy Year is can be found here: and here:

As for 2021, the only thing we know for sure is that it will start, as always, with the opening of the Holy Door on 31st December. How many people will be allowed to attend the ceremony, will depend on the pandemic situation on that date.

Also undecided is if the Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela will ask the Pope to extend the Holy Year into 2022. This decision will be made ‘closer to the time’ is what I ‘hear’ coming out of the archbishop’s office via our local media. A similar prolongation has been granted in the past, in 1885/86 to celebrate the re-discovery and the confirmation of the authenticity of the relics and in 1937/38 because of the Civil War here in Spain. So, again, we wait and see.

As for expected numbers in 2021, that is another ‘crystal ball topic’ and again, only God knows the answer to that one. BC (Before Covid), the expectation was that at least 500,000 pilgrims would be coming, plus several millions of visitors and tourists to the city. The only sure thing is that this number will be far, far lower. Not only due to travel restrictions, quarantine regulations in some countries, and general uncertainty, but also due to the economic downturn that has affected the livelihood and income of so many. Many that want to come will not be allowed to and many others simply can’t afford it anymore.

Pilgrims and Hospitality

Beginning of July, when the Caminos re-opened, I re-arranged my ‘pilgrim’s room’ to offer emergency accommodation if and when needed. At that moment our Covid numbers here in Santiago were very low and it felt safe to do so. I also made the decision that I only would give hospitality to pilgrims that had absolutely no other place to go, I didn’t want to make any competition to already struggling albergues and the like. That meant only ‘me or under the bridge’ cases.

Also, if somebody would have stayed with me, it would have meant keeping to social distancing and wearing a mask at all times, not easy in a relatively small flat. But nobody needed this kind of hospitality during the summer and so I ‘folded’ the pilgrim’s room together by end of September. Ironically, just the day after, I had a request. But by then our numbers had increased badly again and it didn’t feel safe to do so. But no worries, the pilgrim didn’t need to sleep in the streets, between Pilgrim House and me we found a good, safe place for her to stay.

This was the past, but it will be also the future, somewhere, some when …

Meeting Up with Pilgrims

One of the joys of previous years has always been meeting up with pilgrims and listening to their stories and experiences. This has happened a few times also this year, mainly outdoors and following all the guidelines. I enjoyed every single one of these meetings and if there is one thing I take away from it is that all pilgrims I spoke to said that they felt safer on the Camino in Spain than in their own country of residence.

Praying has been one of the few things that I can still do for pilgrims without any limits, so if you have a prayer request, please send them to me, see: for more information.

Camino Situation

The Camino re-opened beginning of July when travel across international and provincial borders was once again allowed. Sadly, many albergues couldn’t re-open this year, either because of their volunteer situation, again, many retirees there, or because they didn’t survive the lockdown financially and are now up for sale or looking for a new tenant. This made the accommodation situation for pilgrims this, short, season often complicated.

Generally speaking albergues and other hospitality places here in Spain follow the guidelines very strictly and expect the pilgrims to do the same. There have been extremely few cases where that didn’t work out well. So, in general, if following our guidelines, walking a Camino is one of the safest activities we still can do. For a recent blog by two pilgrims that walked the Camino Francés in August/September 2020 for a good cause, have a look >>>here<<<.

Some quick points if you’re planning a Camino in Covid times:

  • Always follow the travel guidelines and advice of your own country.
  • Make sure that your travel and health insurance covers Covid and repatriation.
  • Reserve accommodation and/or make sure to call ahead to see if they are open.
  • Have a plan B in place before you run into difficulties.
  • Budget more money than you would normally do, to pay for unexpected hotel stays, taxi rides, and so on.
  • Keep your eyes and ears on the local news, regarding possible new restrictions.
  • Follow all the guidelines and laws (face masks, social distancing, hand washing, and so on).

Download and use the Covid Radar App, more information about it can be found here:

Winter Camino

Additionally to what I mentioned above, if you plan to walk a Camino this winter, you need also to consider that a lot of albergues will close earlier, open later or not be open at all. The following website shows, from November onwards, which albergues are open on the Camino Francés. The information on it is as accurate as the information given to the people that maintain the website, so if you notice that something needs updating, please email them!

Personal Situation – Or what do I do now here in Santiago?

As I wrote here: the place I am living at now was only meant to be my winter flat for 2019/20. I am still here and will stay here at least until March/April 2021. If and when the FCJ sisters and their volunteers return, I will need to find a new place to live, hopefully with our volunteers.

I am still working as a freelance writer, I have published a new book (fiction and nothing to do with the Camino) and I am working on a new book, this one about the Camino. If you are interested in my writings, my author page can be found here: 

Additionally I have put up old and new designs at and plan to do more of this over the winter/spring.

The Box

The background story can be found here: The box has long moved inside the house entrance, which has advantages and disadvantages, but as spring came and the weather got warmer, it was just too limited what I could put into it. The other advantage is that I can speak with those that ring the doorbell and know now better what they really need, like diapers/nappies for their children or fresh fruit and vegetables. Yes, Spain has a social security net, but some people still fall through it.

Here is a lengthy article, sorry, in Spanish, that explains how this can happen.

I think that covers all for the moment, one last request, as I pray for you here in Santiago, please pray for all of us here in Santiago from wherever you are.

Buen Camino de la Vida and I hope to see you all again here in Santiago or on a Camino,


Albergues Closed due to Covid-19

I am leaving this post up for historic purposes, to show how things developed but the situation on the Camino and in Spain has since dramatically changed, my latest update about the current situation (October 2020) can be found here:

Last updated: 14th March 2020 17:13 Spanish Time

Important! All albergues in Galicia are closed, and albergues in other parts of the country are closing fast also, and Spain has declared a state of emergency. If you are on a pilgrimage now, please stop and travel home!

I am NOT updating this list anymore as the Caminos here in Spain are de facto closed!

This is very much a work in progress, but here you go. The list of albergues / pilgrim hostels currently closed to prevent the further spread of the Corona Virus/ Covid-19. Please bookmark this page for further reference … And if you want to help, please post any news about closed/re-opened albergues in a comment. This list currently features albergues that are closed or about to close plus certain other, pilgrim related services that have been closed.

Santiago de Compostela

Pilgrim House in Rua Nova 19 – closed

Cathedral – closed

Pilgrim’s Office – closed. You can leave your Credencial in a mail box and they will mail you your Compostela.

Camino Francés

Roncesvalles – closed

Burgos – municipal
Navarette – Casa del Peregrino

Rabanal – Gaucelmo closed/opening postponed

Camino del Norte

A Carida (El Franco) – municipal
Sobrado dos Monxes

Bustio Asturias

Mar y Montaña in Vegadeo

Tapia de Casariego municipal albergue


Via de la Plata:

Zafra – Albergue Vincent Gogh limited to 18 pilgrims max

Camino Primitivo

Albergue Grado – Closed starting Monday, for a month.

Other Caminos in Spain

The towns of Igualada and Vilanova del Camí and Santa Margarida de Montbui on the Camí Catalan & Camino Ignaciano have been placed in complete quarantine isolation for two weeks, nobody allowed in or out of town. It goes without saying that the Albergue at Igualada is closed for business.

Camino Sureste
Albergue Santa Anna. CLOSED

Albergue O.Ninho. CLOSED

Camino Levante

Canals and Mouxent – Closed


Alpriate Albergue
Albergue de Conímbriga
Rainha Pilgrim Hostel Rainha D. Teresa, Albergaria-a-Velha
Albergue de S. Salvador de Grijó
Albergue Cidade de Barcelos limited to 20 pilgrims/day
Albergue Municipal de Pilegrinos – Casa da Recoleta – Tamel limited to 20 pilgrims/day
Pilgrim Hostel of São Teotónio
São Tiago de Labruge
Santa Clara Albergue- Vila do Conde
Albergue Sao Mamede
Valença Albergue
Povoa de Varzim: São José de Ribamar
Paredes de Coura – closed starting Friday
Ponte de Lima – closed

Azinhaga Casa de Azzancha closed

Camino Zamorano Portugues

Edral – albergue in old people’s center closed
Braganca and Vilhais – The fire brigade is not accepting pilgrims anymore at this time

What is a Donativo albergue anyway?

Every now and then, and with increased frequency this year it seems, the Donativo thematic raises its agitated head on social media like Facebook. Often started by a hospitaler@ complaining that the pilgrims of yesterday didn’t leave enough money to take care of the pilgrims of tomorrow. Or by somebody innocently stating that Donativo equals free as the Church (which one?), the state, the European Union, or whoever or whatever comes to mind, supports the Donativo albergues on the Caminos de Santiago. Or a new pilgrim is just asking what would be the correct amount to leave in a Donativo albergue. And then the discussions start …

Church and albergue of Grañón in La Riojy, on the Camino Francés, image (CC) Henri Bergius

I have served over the last 20+ years in more than 20 albergues as a hospitalera and whilst Egeria House is NOT an albergue, the work that I do here, be it practical pilgrim help or the Camino Chaplaincy, is supported by fundraisers, donations and my own money. If you don’t want to read the whole article to the end, it has become rather long, here a short summary:

Donativo Albergues are maintained exclusively with donations and don’t receive any public funds. They are a work of love by veteran pilgrims and locals to help the pilgrims currently on pilgrimage to Santiago.

If you can, leave:

… the place better, cleaner and tidier than you found it.

… a generous donation, think what was offered to you freely (not for free!) and respect the hospitaler@s, as they are donating their precious vacation time, to help you, the pilgrim.

…, as a rule of thumb, and if you can, the same amount that you have left in a previous albergue where you had to pay a fixed amount for everything you received.

… or 5 Euro (or even a bit more) each for the following: a place to sleep, clean bathrooms and showers, dinner and breakfast.

… nothing, if you have nothing, but always, always leave a smile and a Thank You!

And now my longer take on the subject:

Donativo Albergues 101

A Short History – Medieval Times

The Roman-Catholic church did indeed support pilgrims to and from Santiago de Compostela, and other places, by providing food, shelter, spiritual and practical care. So belonged, for example, the little church and monastery in O Cebreiro to the powerful Benedictine abbey of Cluny in France. Or take the Parador here in Santiago, it was founded by the Catholic kings in 1486 as a hostel and hospital for pilgrims. These were financed by generous donations of the nobility and gentry plus with the income of the monasteries. Helping a pilgrim was, and is still, deemed a good work, a work that helped the donor to achieve salvation and his or her heavenly reward.

A Short History – Modern Times

In the late 80s and 90s of the last millennium, the pilgrimage to Santiago picked up again, after its decline caused by the Black Death, wars, reformation, enlightenment and so on. Some 25+ years ago a young teacher from Catalunya approached a parish priest who lived in a small village on the Camino Frances with an unusual request: Could he help her to rent a house on the Camino so that she could welcome pilgrims in it? Her reasoning was that whilst albergues existed even back then, the human touch, the personal hospitality was still missing. And so the modern movement of volunteer hospitaleros started.

The priest was Don José Ignacio Díaz Pérez, at that time editor of the Spanish pilgrim magazine “Peregrino”. After the teacher finished her stint as a hospitalera, a couple of people took over and the albergue in Hornillos del Camino became the first of many albergues where the traditional hospitality of the Camino de Santiago has been revived. Today a hospitaler@, after having done the Camino, typically attends a preparation course that takes place over a weekend in many places of Spain and also worldwide. After that, they get assigned, typically for 15 days, to an albergue. These hospitaleros pay their own travel to and from the albergue, donate their free and/or vacation time to clean bathrooms, dormitories, kitchens, to cook with and for pilgrims and to pray with them. They don’t receive any remuneration for all the work they do in 15 very long days. The donativos are used to maintain the albergue, pay the water and electricity bills, buy food and other necessities.

Commemorative sign to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Hospitaleros Voluntarios, (cc) Jialxv

What Donativos can teach pilgrims and society in general

The traditional hospitality on the Caminos de Santiago shows that another approach to life, sharing and possessions is possible. The pilgrim receives what is on offer and available in the albergue. Sometimes it is just a place to shower, sleep and rest, sometimes it is a communal meal, a breakfast and/or a time of prayer and reflection. This hospitality aims to take care of the pilgrim and his/her needs without expecting anything in return. Yes, you read that right, if we hospitaler@s start to see pilgrims in terms of “possible donations” then we get it wrong. Of course, there is a box where those who want to keep this “pay it forward system” alive can leave their contribution, but that box should never be the centre of our hospitality. Generous hospitality, offered with an open heart and without judgement, has changed the life of many pilgrims, including my own, more than 20 years ago. Because of the hospitality I have received so many years ago I am now where I am and do what I do.

And a final word to my hospitaler@ colleagues

There is a fine line between explaining to pilgrims what a Donativo albergue is and how it works and making them uncomfortable by being too pushy towards the donation box. Here some tips that might help:

Don’t overload the pilgrims, on arrival, with information, they will forget it anyway. Instead show them their bed, the showers and tell them to come back to you later for more information, after they have recovered from their day’s work of walking or biking.

A transparent or open donation box helps and lets pilgrims see how much or little is in the box. If they can’t see that, they will automatically assume that the box is as full of money as the albergue is full of pilgrims.

Use, if possible, the conversation during the common meal to explain a little bit about the albergue, how it came into being and who actually maintains it and who not.

And, perhaps most importantly, try to separate the pilgrims from the money they leave in the box. This money doesn’t represent your worth as a hospitaler@ nor the worthiness of the pilgrim as a pilgrim. It is just money and if it is one day less than you need, rest assured the next day it will be more than you need to take care of pilgrims.

Have I met true “freeloaders” aka pilgrims that had money, sometimes a lot, but decided to make their Camino as cheap as possible by staying mainly in Donativos and leaving nothing or next to nothing? Yes, over the last 20+ years it was around a handful … if you look at the numbers of pilgrims each year on the Camino, that isn’t many.

Forum Meet-Ups

… putting faces to names

Shortly after moving to Santiago, I re-started the ‘forum pilgrims meet-up’. For those of you that don’t know the >pilgrims forum<  here a bit of background info.

Some time back, a few bright pilgrims that pass a lot of time on this forum had the equally bright idea that it would be great to put ‘faces to names’ and started a regular forum meet-up in Santiago in a very nice café-bar called Tertulia. Sometimes people came, sometimes they didn’t. Problem was that many people that came found nobody around, so only stayed for a short while and went, half an hour later somebody else came, found nobody around and …

homemade lemonade

I thought that having at least one person committed to be there the whole time slot might actually help with this. Even if that person was me 😉 That way, the first forum pilgrim showing up would have immediately somebody to chat to. I run a short survey on the forum to find out what time of the day people favoured and if they would be willing to come to my place instead of meeting in a café-bar. The best time slot was quickly, and with a good majority, determined to be in the later afternoon/early evening. The vote for the best place to meet was less unanimous. A bit more than half of the contributing forum members actually voted for meeting in a café-bar. Stubborn woman that I am I politely ignored that vote 😉

First of all, if nobody comes, I can still do things around the house. Second, not everybody wants to/can spend money in a café-bar. Third, by moving to Santiago I committed myself to helping pilgrims, so my ‘intruded privacy’ wasn’t really an issue for me, more a concern by others for me 😉 But as I wrote on the forum:

“When I envisioned living in Santiago, I already had it very clear in my head that I would share part of the house with pilgrims/friends, so nobody is intruding on my privacy. The ground floor is ‘open space’, the first floor is ‘invited only’ space and the second floor is ‘only my space’.”

The experiment started off well, with a few pilgrims coming by each day and yes, there were also a few days when nobody came as well as a few pilgrims that came every day they were in Santiago. As time went by it became clear that weekends were the less ‘busy’ days, perhaps because most pilgrims integrate them in their ‘travel back home plans’. So I decided to take the weekends off and offer my ‘open door’ “only” from Monday to Friday. If you are curious now, here a short FAQ that should answer all questions:

(Forum) Pilgrims Meet-Up FAQ

Do I have to be a forum member to come?

No, not at all! Whilst the idea originated in this forum community, my door is open to all pilgrims.

Where do I find more information?

Head over to In the first, regularly updated, post you find all the info you need, including the occasional ‘cry off’ on my part if I would be out of town for example.

What happens during the meet-up?

Pretty much the same as when pilgrims meet up in any other place. We share a tea/coffee, a biscuit/cookie and there is normally a jug of homemade lemonade on the table plus plenty of fresh fruit. And we chat, lots. About the Camino, our experiences, whatever comes up.

Are there any costs for this?

Absolutely not! Sometimes pilgrims bring something to share (cookies/biscuits/fruit), sometimes not. It all balances out and, over time, I even had to restrain pilgrims that brought too much 😉

Why do you do this?

Because I am a pilgrim and I love meeting other pilgrims! And also because I hang around a lot on the forum (and others) and love to put faces to names after, sometimes, years of online interaction.

Is this some ‘Christian’ thing???

Only in the sense that I myself am a Christian, apart of that not. No bible readings, no hymns, no evangelisation or the like. Just pilgrims chatting the time away about pretty much everything. If you are looking for a pilgrims meet-up in English with a more Christian focus, I can recommend >Pilgrim House< or the >Camino Companions<.

Any further questions? Just leave a comment and hoping to see you soon in person!

Buen Camino, SY